Walter Hang, president of Toxic Targeting, testifies before a panel of Senate Democrats focusing on the transportation, storage and disposal of fracking waste. Democrats in the Senate are urging a package of bills focusing on better regulating the handling of waste create by the controversial drilling process. Photo by Kelly Fay.
May 19, 2014Highlighting the public and environmental dangers presented by improperly disposing of hazardous environmental waste, Senate Democrats are pushing for the passage of a four-bill package to strengthen New York's environmental laws.
Although high volume hydraulic fracturing — a natural gas extraction process that blasts water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to release the gas — is not permitted in the state of New York, the transportation and disposal of fracking waste is legal.
Fracking waste is allowed to be treated at water treatment facilities and also disposed of at landfills throughout the state. Brine, a salt-rich by-product of fracking, is used in several counties to de-ice roadways as an alternative to the more widely used rock salt. Environmental advocates argue this practice is harmful for the environment because the liquid contains contaminants and radioactive qualities.
"It makes no sense to me to allow the waste product from this process in Pennsylvania to be transported here," said Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, sponsor of a bill (S.5123-A) to prohibit the transportation of fracking waste into the state for treatment, disposal or storage.
Tkaczyk recently used a parliamentary move to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, although the bill was defeated by a Republican majority.
Prior to the vote, Sen. Mark Grisanti, chair of the committee expressed doubts that fracking waste was even brought into the state.
"I'm not actually sure that is actually taking place," Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, said.
Despite Grisanti's skepticism, Kate Hudson, the watershed program director for Riverkeeper, says the use of fracking waste on roads is a significant practice in the Southern Tier and other areas of Western New York.
"There are at least three New York State Department of Transportation offices who have approval to spread it on state highways," within their jurisdiction, she said.
According to Hudson, spreading brine on the roads, which is authorized to be used to melt ice on roads multiple times per season she says, creates a buildup of contaminants found in the brine on the roads.
Hudson says leftover contaminants can "become airborne, they can be tracked into people's homes and schools, as you get out of your car you get it on the bottom of your feet, so there is a substantial risk."
A request for comment from Grisanti was not returned.
Other legislation being pushed by the Senate Democrats includes a bill (S.3333-A) sponsored by Sen. Terry Gipson outlawing the use of fracking waste products on roads; other legislation making it illegal to sell liquid fracking waste (S.3433) sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger and another bill (S.5412), also sponsored by Gipson, banning water treatment facilities and landfills from accepting fracking waste.
"Protecting New Yorkers and our natural resources from hazardous industrial practices and their byproducts should be a priority for every member of the Environmental Conservation Committee. There are currently multiple bills that would close loopholes and ensure waste products from the hydrofracking process are not allowed into New York state," said Sen. Ted O'Brien, ranking member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. "Unfortunately, these bills are being held up by the Senate Republican and [Independent Democratic Conference] coalition and are not being brought to the floor for a vote before the whole Senate. I urge my colleagues in the majority coalition to drop their opposition to this common sense legislation and do what is best for our state's residents and environment."
Speaking during the Senate's panel discussion, Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, said he believed strengthening the state's fracking waste laws deserved New York's "utmost attention."
According to Hang, a conventional gas well typically generates one to three barrels, between about 40 and 126 gallons, of brine per day. There are approximately 7,000 existing wells that have produced waste water Hang added.
"There's currently no regulatory system to track those waters from cradle to grave," he said.
John Armstrong, a communications organizer for Frack Action said, "The bottom line is that fracking waste is a serious and growing issue with no good solution," adding that the waste is highly toxic and often contains carcinogenic chemicals.
"The best answer for fracking waste is ultimately to ban fracking so we don't make any more of it and to absolutely ban its disposal," he added.